Born in Ashford, Kent, Forsyth was educated at Tonbridge. He later attended Granada University in Spain. At the age of 19, he became one of the youngest pilots ever in the Royal Air Force, where he served until 1958.
He then became a reporter, and spent three and a half years working at a small newspaper before joining Reuters in 1961. In 1965, he joined the BBC and was assistant diplomatic correspondent. From July to September 1967, he covered the Biafran War between Biafra and Nigeria.
In 1968, he left the BBC and returned to Biafra as a freelancer. In 1969, he wrote a book about the Biafran War called The Biafra Story.
In 1970, he decided to write a novel, but to write it using similar research techniques as were used in journalism. His first full length novel, The Day of the Jackal was an international bestseller, and was later made into a movie with the same name. In this novel, the Organisation de l'Armée Secrète hires an assassin to kill Charles de Gaulle.
In 1972, Forsyth wrote the Odessa File, in which a reporter attempts to track down a network of ex-Nazis in modern Germany. In 1974, he wrote the Dogs of War, in which a diamond executive hires a bunch of mercenaries to overthrow an African government so he can mine diamonds there.
In 1979, he wrote The Devil's Alternative, which was set in 1982 Russia. In this book, the Soviet Union faces a disastrous grain harvest, Ukranian freedom fighters. In the end, a Norwegian oil tanker built in Japan, a Russian airliner hijacked to West Berlin and countless governments find themselves involved.
In 1982, No Comebacks was published, which was a collection of approximately 10 short stories. Some of these stories had been written earlier.
The Fourth Protocol was published in 1984, which involved renegade elements within the Soviet Union attempting to plant a nuclear bomb near an American airbase in the UK. The result would be peace protesters demanding an end to the US airbases. In 1989, he wrote the Negotiator, in which the President's son is kidnapped and one man's job is to negotiate the release.
In 1991, the Deceiver was published. It involved four separate short stories to review Agent Sam McCready's career.
In 1994, Forsyth published the Fist of God. It was a historical novel about the first Gulf War. In 1996, he published Icon, about the rise of the fascists in Russia. In 2001, the Veteran was published, another collection of short stories. His latest book, Avenger, has been published in September 2003.
Forsyth is a political conservative, and has always been anti-EU. He has also written several op-ed pieces for newspapers throughout his career.